After complaints, Norwalk reduces program fees

NORWALK - Four months after raising fees on dozens of recreation and senior center programs, the City Council reversed course Tuesday, rolling back prices due to complaints and decreasing enrollment.The fee hikes were unanimously approved by the council on June 2 but city manager Mike Egan admitted the city may have "overreached" after the rate increases made Norwalk recreational programs more expensive than neighboring cities - in some cases, significantly more expensive. Lap swimming at the Aquatic Pavilion, for example, cost $6 for adults and $4 for seniors under the new fee structure, double the rate charged by Downey. La Mirada charges $3 for swimming and Bellflower only $1. Despite the summer heat wave, the Aquatic Pavilion saw less swimmers than in years past, which recreation and park services superintendent Bill Kearns attributed to the heightened fees. Participation in the city's adult softball leagues dipped so low that the summer league was canceled. Norwalk charged $680 per team, compared to $425 in Whittier and $590 in Downey. Perhaps the most drastic rate discrepancy was in field rentals, where Norwalk raised its rates 400 percent higher than neighboring cities. Norwalk's rate of $121 per hour to rent a baseball diamond was vastly higher than the rates charged in Downey ($19 per hour) and Whittier ($15 per hour). In fact, since the new prices went into effect, not a single organization has reserved a field in Norwalk. Norwalk seniors also became upset at a new $5 fee to participate in billiard tournaments at the senior center. The tournament was previously free for seniors. Council members Tuesday said their goal has always been to make recreational and senior programs accessible to as many Norwalk residents as possible. "If (seniors) are out there playing pool, we should be happy they're doing something," said Councilman Mike Mendez. "The senior population is important to us." The City Council rolled back most of the fees Tuesday, eliminating the fee for senior billiards tournaments (except for non-residents, who need to pay $3) and slashing the price of field rentals in half to $60 per hour. Council members also agreed to fund $780 in annual prizes to billboard tournament winners out of their own discretionary funds. (Each council member has $10,000 in city funds to use at their discretion each year.) Fees were reduced for adult softball and basketball leagues, lap swim and water aerobics. To eliminate confusion, the council also set a $37 fixed rate for all youth sports leagues (previously, prices varied according to sport). A rate increase for non-resident players was also waived.

********** Published: October 18, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 27